Myrtle and Joe Tully’s Gypsy Life …1915 to 1925
It is often said that behind every successful man there stands a woman. For those of us who knew both Myrtle and Joe, that statement is certainly true . So in a great sense this is also a story about Myrtle Zoe Tully (Popham), the life partner of Joe.
If you read the ‘Tully Family History’ section you know that Joe and Myrtle were married in San Francisco on Friday, Feb 26th 1915. Not in the hot air balloon that Joe thought would be an excellent way to mark the occasion, but in front of a Justice of the Peace as Myrtle thought this was more appropriate. Joe had turned 23 twelve days before on February 14th and Myrtle was 17 and would turn 18 three and a half months later. Further, just two months earlier, Joe’s brother and business partner, Ed, married Myrtle’s sister Veda in Seattle on December 28th 1914.
There is no visual record of either wedding, but below is, I believe, the only existing picture of Joe and Myrtle near the time of their marriage. This is a carnival style picture that was presumably taken at a booth in Washington Park, Portland Oregon on April 21st 1915.…Myrtle and Joe had been married a mere 54 days by then. I believe that Myrtle tucked it away for safe keeping and carried it with her for decades until it finally came to be included with other family pictures when they settled in Toronto. The printing in the border appears to have been done by Myrtle.
The border reads: Portland O, Washington Park, “Some Fish” April 21st 1915
The four newly weds started their married lives together as a sales and promotion team.
For a few years prior to marrying, Ed and Joe had honed their selling and promotion skills and had developed a successful approach to business that provided them with a very good income. Although it was somewhat transient in nature and took them all over the United States and Canada, it was very lucrative.
The following is an excerpt from an account that Joseph Stanley Tully, Myrtle and Joe’s second child, wrote in 1992 about the sales techniques of Ed and Joe Tully:
“They were both very good salesmen. They didn’t particularly like working on a ‘commission’ basis and preferred to buy on their own account and sell at what ever the market would bear…they tried many things…they sold razor blades which fit the ‘Gillette’ which was replacing the old straight razor. They actually owned the dies that made the blades and had a New York manufacturer produce their blades which they then sold through such stores as Walgreens or United Cigar”……in other instances “they would approach a manufacturer or source of supply, and contract to purchase a quantity of a certain item at a (reduced) price for cash. They would then approach a chain (of stores)… and sell them on the idea that the Tully brothers would put on ‘demonstrations’ in a select number of their stores in a given city.” The store would receive a percentage of the sales revenue and the brothers would receive a much larger return.
When the brothers married, Myrtle and Veda became very important partners in the business. Both had bookkeeping and secretarial skills and as the company grew in size, they took over the training of ‘sales demonstrators’. These sales demonstrators allowed the foursome to have several sales demonstrations going on simultaneously in different locations in the same city. Essentially, they multiplied their income by using well trained temporary workers.
The first two years of marriage for Joe and Myrtle must have been exciting. They traveled from major city to major city, stayed in the best hotels, ate at the best restaurants and traveled comfortably……..then their first child, Richard, was born on February 3, 1917. A year later Ed and Veda had their first child.
It is interesting to note that between 1915 and 1925 when Myrtle and Joe were selling ‘on the road’, five of their six children were born. During those early years they worked in cities like Boston, Seattle, Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, Denver, San Francisco and New York to name a few.
Here is an outline of the birth dates and locations for the births of their first five children. Be aware that both Myrtle and Joe were American citizens at the time.
Richard (Dick)was born in Montreal on Feb 3rd 1917, making him a Canadian citizen.
Joseph (Joe) was born in Toronto on Jan 29th 1919, making him a Canadian citizen.
Agnes (Babe) was born in Montreal on Jan 24th 1921, making her a Canadian citizen.
William (Bill) was born in Wisconsin on Feb 14th 1922, making him an American Citizen
Mary-Jane (M-J)was born in Toronto on Nov 11th 1925, making her a Canadian Citizen
Their pattern seems to have been to return to ‘family’ when a child was due to be born. Although Myrtle’s parents were born in Montreal , they had moved. First to Missouri where Myrtle was born and then to Vancouver where they settled permanently. Clearly though, the couple had some strong ties and support in Montreal where they went for the birth of two of their children. Wisconsin, of course is where Joe’s parents lived and they went for the birth of William.
In the second half of 1925, Myrtle and Joe arrived in Toronto to make it their permanent home and to start The Eclipse Fountain Pen and Pencil Company. Mary-Jane was born soon after their arrival and the sixth child, Marjorie (Margie) was born in Toronto on Oct. 3rd 1928, three years after Myrtle and Joe settled permanently in Toronto.
It is hard to imagine the challenges Myrtle faced with her family growing in numbers while she and Joe were still so transient. The first four children were born in the coldest months of winter. Considering the severity of those winters in the early 1900’s plus the difficulties of traveling by train, one has to recognize what an iron will she must have had. A trait we will explore in a future edition of this remarkable couples life together.